BTA chief: U.K. took a 'severe blow' on Sept. 11

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NEW YORK -- Overseas tourist arrivals to the U.K. in August had caught up with August arrivals in 2000, according to Jeff Hamblin, chief executive of the British Tourist Authority, signaling a firm recovery from the serious dropoff in arrivals triggered by the outbreak of hoof-and-mouth disease early this year.

"We had licked" that problem, he said, but, as with the rest of the world's tourist destinations, U.K. tourism took a "severe blow," when terrorists struck so destructively in the U.S. on Sept. 11.

As reported, the U.K. is expected to lose about $3.75 billion in inbound tourism receipts this year, and spending by overseas visitors to Britain is expected to be down about 20% from 2000.

The BTA projects international arrivals to be off 15% to 25%, said Keith Beecham, director of marketing services.

He said the BTA expects a further decline next year but will attempt a reforecast in another month. He said no one can predict travel patterns from the U.S. for the year 2002.

Hamblin and Beecham were among a number of BTA officials visiting New York for events and meetings timed to coincide with the two-week UKwithNY Festival, which runs through Oct. 28.

Beecham said London's experiences, with more empty seats and theaters and restaurants, are comparable to those in New York. BTA officials urged agents to use this time period, of uncrowded conditions and discounted or negotiable prices, to schedule visits to the U.K.

In support of the trade, Tim Lovell, BTA vice president USA, also said the tourist authority will be a sponsor of the Red, White and Blue Evening at the ASTA congress, which is set for Nov. 4 to 7 in New York.

The setback to U.K. tourism comes at a time when the nation's tourism interests are gearing up to promote Queen Elizabeth's Golden Jubilee in 2002. On a less grand scale, the tourist authority also will promote sites of interest to Harry Potter fans, in conjunction with the release of the Harry Potter movie in mid-November.

Even with such attractions for luring American visitors, the British interests find themselves emphasizing safety at their destination, discounted travel product and the special relationship between the U.S. and Britain.

Hamblin said that, although the U.K. had already been security conscious as a result of IRA attacks over the years, London and the airports are taking extra precautions. He said the London airports (Heathrow and Gatwick) employ tighter security measures "than at any airport in the world."

BTA said its Britain News publication soon will be relaunched as a Web-only publication and will concentrate more than ever on product descriptions and their prices, especially due to the Sept. 11 attacks.

Lovell said, "Americans are looking for reassurances of security and special price offers will encourage them" as well. He said the U.S. and U.K. have a "very special" relationship and he expects the U.K. will remain the top destination choice among Americans traveling overseas.

He said telephone inquiries to the BTA fell 60% immediately after Sept. 11 and have been rising and falling with later events, meaning the air war in Afghanistan and the anthrax scare. Calls are now at about half their pre-Sept. 11 rates.

Noting that different markets are expected to recover at varying rates, Lovell said the BTA is doing a direct-mail campaign to the gay and lesbian market this month. He said travelers from different regions are expected to return to the U.K. at varying paces, as well.

The challenge, he and others agreed, is to prepare the right promotion for delivery when it will be most effective.

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